Kurt Loder Movie Reviews

Fifty Shades of Grey and Kingsman: The Secret Service

Dakota Johnson in (very light) bondage, Colin Firth on the neo-Bond spy beat.

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50 Shades of Grey
Focus Features

So E.L. James' hot-trash novel makes it to the screen, and the surprise is… well, it's a chick flick, that's no surprise. But the film version of Fifty Shades of Grey is also sleekly made and sometimes quite funny. And especially in two aerial sequences—a helicopter flight over a glittering city and a splendid glider ride, swooping through the clouds—it's also romantic in an unusually groan-free way. The characters are still ciphers, and there are still too many of them, and we weary of their company rather long before we're able to take leave of it. But for a pre-sold exploitation project, the picture is an honorable effort, and better than it needed to be.

It was a wise decision to turn this material over to two women—director Sam Taylor-Johnson (Nowhere Boy) and writer Kelly Marcel (Saving Mr. Banks). James' novel is baldly pornographic—an exercise in bondage tourism for people who'd never dream of logging onto Kink.com. But Marcel (along with Patrick Marber, who did some rewriting) warms up the stick-figure characters; and Taylor-Johnson, working with cinematographer Seamus McGarvey (The Avengers), provides some visual compositions of a rich, creamy elegance.

James' story is hopeless twaddle, of course, uninformed by any sort of character motivation. Once again we struggle to figure out why hunky Seattle billionaire Christian Grey (Irish actor Jamie Dornan) would become obsessed with luring a college student and hardware-store clerk named Anastasia (Dakota Johnson) into his "Red Room of Pain," a home temple consecrated to the joys of whips and manacles and set-decoration. And why would the virginal Anastasia be drawn to such rough stuff? He just does and she just is, and that's that.

Grey is a character defined almost entirely by his accessories: his gray suits and ties, his Beemers and Macs and marble-floored penthouse. His business empire is a vague enterprise, and a fetish for sexual domination appears to be his only outside pursuit. He meets Anastasia when she comes to his office for the purpose of a profile for her school paper (a scene that riffs wittily on the dynamics of the celebrity interview). Soon he's turning up everywhere she goes—stalking her, essentially, although we're not supposed to think of it that way. Anastasia is put off at first, but then bedazzled, and soon he's proffering her a contract—an actual legal document—outlining his requirements for submissive sex partners. ("What's a butt plug?" she asks.) Then it's off to the Red Room.   

None of the sex scenes in this movie seem to me to strain the bounds of its R rating. There's no full-frontal nudity—Johnson's body is generously displayed (there's even a pubic tease or two), but Dornan's nudity is strictly of the bare-chest-and-buttocks variety. And the big-deal BDSM moves consist mainly of bound wrists and blindfolds, with some brief and carefully edited spanking and light crop-thwacking. There's also a quick thigh-nuzzle and quite a bit of tasteful loin-grinding, and at one point we watch Christian kissing his way down Anastasia's abdomen en route to a place at which we never see him actually arrive. It's all worlds away from the darker rooms of bondage classicism: the ritual torments of The Story of O and the troubling compulsions of Nine and a Half Weeks. Instead, we get something entirely conventional: good girl meets bad boy, he lost in shadows ("I don't do romance") and she ("What are you afraid of?") sweetly determined to lead him into the light.

The actors do more with these vacant characters than you might expect. Dornan, a onetime fashion model best-known for his role in ABC's Once Upon a Time, is given virtually nothing to play (the blank-slate Christian Grey may be sketched in more fully in the film's two sequels, comin' up). But he has a smile of twinkly amusement (it recalls the late Christopher Reeve), and he manages to seem unembarrassed even by a line like "I'm fifty shades of fucked up."

But Johnson is the true star of this show. She's pretty in a real-world way, and her down-to-earth looks help ground the film's porny premise as she navigates her character's emotional journey—from awkward innocence to ultimate awareness of her power position in this relationship—with subtle command. The story may be all kinds of fake—especially in its aspiration to edginess—but she's the real deal.   

Kingsmen
Twentieth Century Fox

Kingsman: The Secret Service

The early James Bond movies of the 1960s spawned a welter of knockoff spoofs featuring half-jokey spies like Derek Flint and Matt Helm. The Austin Powers films of 30 years later went for pure parody. Now, a little late, perhaps, comes Kingsman: The Secret Service, which once again rakes over the coals of the licensed-to-kill genre. The director, action maniac Matthew Vaughn, demonstrated an alarming facility for splattery mayhem in his Kick-Ass films, and there's lots more of that here. But the movie's tone is wobbly: it's a spy adventure and a meta-comedy and a man-and-boy bonding story, too, and it doesn't hold together. With Colin Firth in control at the picture's beginning, it's a lot of fun. But the movie starts coming unglued about halfway through its excessive two-hour-plus runtime, and by the end you're likely to feel exhausted, and a little grumpy.

The story is a substantially revamped take on a comic-book series written by Mark Millar, who also collaborated with Vaughn on the Kick-Ass films. The setup is pretty funny. In 19th Century London, we're told, a Savile Row tailor founded an independent spy agency called the Kingsmen, a group devoted to fine suits, well-made martinis, and saving the world from various villains. Today, the group's headquarters is still located in the Kingsman bespoke-clothing shop, where Fitting Room 2 is filled with explosive spy gadgetry (dagger-toe shoes, lethal umbrellas), and the group's current leader, a man known only as Arthur (Michael Caine), gathers his suavely attired agents for regular meetings to discuss their latest international missions.

Firth's Harry Hart—code name Galahad—is a top operative engaged in the pursuit of a billionaire super-villain named Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson). Valentine has been kidnapping VIPs from around the world—princesses, prime ministers, even Iggy Azalea (who doesn't appear here). He has also embarked on a plot to solve the problem of global warming by radically culling the Earth's population. His instrument for doing this a SIM-card app that can be remotely triggered to incite murderous rage in its owners—of which he has assured there are millions worldwide.

No one does droll whimsy better than Colin Firth, and he's a pleasure to watch as he beats down a pub full of thugs without wrinkling a lapel and, on a visit to America, carves up a church full of hateful racists. But the story is unfortunately dominated by Harry's relationship with his delinquent nephew Gary (Taron Egerton), whom he hopes to redeem by recruiting the lad into the Kingsmen. So Gary has to undergo a lot of training at the group's country-estate spy school. And as cool as some of this is—especially an underwater sequence in a flooded dormitory, and a sky-jumping exercise in which one of the students has been issued a non-operative parachute—it all goes on too long. As does the often brutal action: after a certain number of eyeball-knifings and neck-hatchetings, you begin to tune out. Vaughn is an expert at choreographing this stuff, but he's so invested in its execution that he can't seem to let it go, and it runs on and on.

Egerton makes a solid debut here, and there's a sort of neo-Bond girl called Gazelle (Sofia Boutella) who's really terrific: she glides around on knife-edged prosthetic legs that can slice a man from stem to stern with one well-placed kick. It's too bad that Jackson is all wrong for super-villainy: he lacks the requisite purring malice, and the lisp he effects throughout grows old fast. After Firth drops out of the story midway throuugh, Valentine is the only really colorful character left, and he's not enough. Which could also be said of the movie itself.        

NEXT: Friday Funnies: Double Your Government Fun

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  1. The Masochism Tango

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TytGOeiW0aE

    (guess whether this is SWF?)

    1. SFW

      (hint: It’s not. Unless you work at the Torture Emporium)

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    2. And for you calculus buffs, The Derivative Song.

      1. Kinky!

      2. It’s not real calculus without epsilons and deltas. Must…..have…..convergence!

        As for the movie, it’s probably so vanilla that I would have to spank myself for seeing it.

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  2. “But for a pre-sold exploitation project, the picture is an honorable effort, and better than it needed to be.”

    From the poster: “‘Better than it needed to be’ – Kurt Loder”

    1. “luring a college student and hardware-store clerk named Anastasia (Dakota Johnson) into his “Red Room of Pain,” a home temple consecrated to the joys of whips and manacles and set-decoration.” – Kurt Loder

    2. That’s high praise coming from Loder.

      1. Wonder what he thinks of Wagner’s music?

  3. I dare not look, but I wonder if Jezebel will run some think pieces about whether it’s OK to be turned on by the movie.

    1. Those ponderous our-tickles are already weighing down the internet today.

    2. It’s only rape culture if they didn’t like it.

    3. jezzies don’t think, they emote, but I’m sure some bullshit will be forthcoming. I won’t be paying attention.

  4. HE: “OK, honey, for Valentine’s Day I got the blindfold and manacles ready to fulfill your 50 shades fantasy.”

    SHE: “Great, now all you need is a billion dollars.”

    1. LOL, I’m totally stealing that.

  5. But for a pre-sold exploitation project

    You know what else was a pre-sold exploitation project…

    1. Strip mining?

      (huh huh, strip)

    2. “We have to whip it so that you can find out what is in it.”

    3. The Constitution?

  6. Kurt sure the movie was alright, but more importantly how many guys are going to get laid this weekend because of this movie?

    1. I don’t know about the movie, my wife has no desire to see it, but I did enjoy her reading the books.

  7. independent spy agency

    Private defense contractors?? Is the ancap revolution finally at hand?

    1. The Libertarian ancap moment is here!

  8. But…but…I’ve read several reviews in major publications by noted feminists that the movie promotes/apologizes for domestic and sexual abuse! Noted feminists! Major publications!

    You’re not implying that these wimmmin reviewers are joyless, sexless, dour, ideological kill joys whose own barren lives only show life when they $#!# on popular culture, are you?

    I’m going to need to see an alternative review from a bleeding heart libertarian feminist before I can judge this film.

    In the mean time, I’ll be in the front row tonight, taking notes:

    “Surprise her with a private jet to Paris and a good spanking.”

    Thanks for the tip, Mr. Grey!

    1. I’m guessing that the movie is more tame compared to the book. Most of the complaints I heard weren’t from feminists, but from people who enjoy bdsm, both male and female. Their beef with it was that it tried to present what they perceived as an abusive relationship as bdsm, when the entire basis of the bdsm fetish was built on consent (you know safe words and the like). It also misrepresents their fetish in other ways.

      Personally, I don’t mind if somebody enjoys the book or movie, I just find it funny to mention to people I know that like it that it originally started as a twilight fanfiction. It’s not a very good representation of bdsm either. Women would do themselves a favor finding a better representation if they enjoy the subject matter enough.

  9. The best worst Fifty Shades of Grey reviews

    About as erotic as an ad for Pottery Barn

    Hey! What about Ghost?!

    1. How is this one missing?

      “Are you a critic?”. When I answered yes, she said: “I feel nothing but boredom. Tear this fucker to shreds.”

  10. In a preview I saw for Kingsman one of the characters is literally covered in bullets fired at point blank range. The bullets stick to him until he straightens his suit, at which point they all fall off. Now, first of all, lucky for the guy no one shot him in the head. Second, total BS – it’s a suit without any padding. Even if you had some exotic fiber that stopped the bullets, it would be like getting hit with ball-peen hammers all over your body. Thirdly, why would the bullets stick until you could pause for dramatic effect?

    You want to make an action movie, fine, but don’t treat the audience like complete idiots.

    1. You want to make an action movie, fine, but don’t treat the audience like complete idiots.

      Dude! That ship sailed 20 years ago!

      1. “Welcome to Earf.”

        1. How Dare You?! ID4 is the 7th greatest movie of all time, behind the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Lord of the Rings extended editions!

        2. I don’t get the ID4 hate around here. In some respects it is the perfect movie. It’s not meant to be intelligent.

          1. Did you think I was being sarcastic?

    2. The material perfectly converts kinetic energy into sexy energy. Perfectly explained by science.

      Where is your god now?

      1. Sexy energy? Pulleeeze!

        It is called kinketic energy you scientific ignoramus!

        1. Yes, and there’s also poontential energy.

          1. LOL. Who are you who are so wise in the ways of science?

            1. I am Libertate, King of the Commenters.

                1. Now there’s a movie I could rewatch.

                2. You weren’t here that day. It was a Sunday. Pro held a vote and it was just him, Tulpa and the NetJobs bot. Since even the NetJobs bot knows Tulpa’s an asshole, Pro won by default. Fist was appointed Prime Minister of Link threads.

                  1. You don’t vote for kings. I received supreme power from the Lucy of the Blog [angels start singing], her arm clad in the purest shimmering Vegemite, held aloft Liberator from the bosom of the water signifying by Divine Providence that I, Libertate, was to carry Liberator [singing stops]. That is why I am your king!

                3. I thought we were an autonomous collective.

                  1. You’re fooling yourself. We’re living in a dictatorship…a self-perpetuating autocracy in which the working classes–

    3. Many moviegoers want to be treated like complete idiots.

      1. I’m fine with the ridiculous, provided that it has a rough internal logic. Unless total ridiculousness is the goal, then I can forgive much. Like, I dunno, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.

        1. that was not ridiculous…. It really happened, didn’t it?

          1. I meant a documentary observing the most excellent ridiculousness that is Wyld Stallyns.

  11. No one does droll whimsy better than Colin Firth

    1) Uh, hello – Roger Moore?

    2) We thought about seeing it, but I’ll catch it when it hits EPIX on the small screen. Thanks for the tips, as always, Mr. Loder.

      1. The RingWorld guy?

    1. “1) Uh, hello – Roger Moore?”

      ? He was the most uptight Bond ever.

      For droll whimsy, it’s William Powell in the Thin Man series.

  12. The way to get suburbanite blahwaffles to view a cinematic tryst showcasing the softer edge of fetishism: erase the penis and vulva and only suggest penetration. The film is about the aura of sensuality and its relationship to submission and domination but literal human anatomy degrades the experience so let’s just fucking make sure we just point the camera at the ropes.

    It’s like filming an MMA bout with cameras pointed only at the biceps and faces of the fighters while the bleeding and pounding is suggested by shots at the canvas floor and the overlay of eerie muffled flesh thumps.

    Americans enjoy their blood and gut spillage (so do I from time to time) but fuck it if they have to sit and be entertained by a goddamn actual bondage scene in an actual movie about bondage where a slut is tied up and fucked into obedience like the good little whore she is.

    1. fuck it if they have to sit and be entertained by a goddamn actual bondage scene in an actual movie about bondage where a slut is tied up and fucked into obedience like the good little whore she is.

      “My Uncle Jimbo has a ton of those movies in his dresser drawer.”

      1. Now I know who the little bastard is that isn’t rewinding my special movies.

        Wait, did I discover some sort of paradox here? If the adage is “Be kind and rewind” is Loki sort of obligated to not rewind a bondage tape?

        After all being kind sort of defeats the purpose. The masochist in me secretly loves the fact that I have to waste 5 minutes rewinding the damned tape to the good parts.

        1. It’s 2015 and you still keep your snuff films on VHS? I keep mine on an encrypted thumb drive I keep inside a miniature vibrator taped to my inner thigh. If the heat is on I just start masturbating. Vigorously.

          1. I keep a pet monkey in my back pocket… nothing like a reach-around from a distant fucking ugly cousin.

          2. I’m afraid to go down to the store to get the video transferred from VHS to a thumb drive. I’m worried they would take it wrong and confiscate everything.

            After all, that is pretty much how I lost my pet cats. I learned from that. Never include outsiders.

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  13. Sparkly S&M.

    ‘Nuff said.

  14. billionaire Christian Grey (Irish actor Jamie Dornan) … why would the virginal Anastasia be drawn to such rough stuff?

    *raises hand* I’m pretty sure I figured it out.

    1. Try billionaire Calvin Klein Model

  15. “””””and, on a visit to America, carves up a church full of hateful racists””‘

    Reverend Wrights church?

    1. Sorry, Adam Goldbergs review of Kingsmen over at Collider.com was better. A lot more libertarian sounding too.

  16. I know three women who were in abusive relationships. All three said 50 Shades of Grey reminded them of being in the abusive relationship because of how Grey treats Steele. I think I’ll be avoiding this one.

    1. People who conflate consensual pleasure with ‘abuse’ are stricken with a mental affliction.

      Victims of abuse have no business projecting their unfortunate circumstances on innocent pastimes however edgy they may be. Strange how a cancer like this keeps the pathetically-moral so alive and narrow-minded.

      1. Yeah whatever, perv.

        -jcr

      2. Actually, as I pointed out above, many bdsm fetishists have pointed out that the book resembles abuse much more than the bdsm that is generally practiced. Here is one such article: http://www.elephantjournal.com…..good-bdsm/ I can’t remember if this was the article I read some time ago or not, but I think this covers the same points as it.

        Note, I don’t agree with everything said in the article but one part that I found particularly telling was this: “Anastasia begins to hide things in fear of Christian’s anger. He becomes jealous and easily angered. Anastasia fears for her safety. Experts have even matched her behavior with that of abused women, in accordance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s description of partner violence.” I could definitely see a character like that as being abused because my own mother was married to an abuser and everybody in the household was almost always walking on eggshells when he was around. The smallest slip and he would burst into anger. I wouldn’t be so quick to write this off as a feature of bdsm instead of abuse.

        Another part: “Bad people do sneak into BDSM to find a way to escape persecution for their violent ways, but the majority of those in BDSM are not abusive, like this book would have you believe.” Many BDSM fetishists feel they are having their fetish misrepresented.

        And last note: I am not calling for a boycott or ban of any sort. And whatever floats your boat

    2. Good for you. This was a pointless comment.

    3. You know three women who were in abusive relationships, and they all went out and read that book?

  17. Never saw an IMDB User Rating that low before: 3.3/10

    1. Considering it’s not even out yet, I’m gonna guess this is the SJW brigade expressing their outrage that the movie (presumably) doesn’t end with the characters embracing affirmative consent.

      1. The movie is playing in 6 local theaters within 10 miles of me, so it appears to be in general release.

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  19. I’ll be skipping 50 Shades, but I’m really looking forward to going to What We Do In The Shadows. http://www.rottentomatoes.com/…..e_shadows/

  20. “Once again we struggle to figure out why hunky Seattle billionaire Christian Grey (Irish actor Jamie Dornan) would become obsessed with luring a college student and hardware-store clerk named Anastasia (Dakota Johnson) into his “Red Room of Pain,””

    The same reason beautiful, curvy, lonely MILFs are hot for idiot pizza delivery boys – whose porn is it?

    1. Bingo! Seriously, it’s like Kurt has never understood the basic premise of a porno.

  21. I’m never going to read fifty shades of grey or watch the movie, but I still have to hear all these perverts bitching about how it portrays them. Ok dude, you like whipping your girlfriend, I get it. Not go tell someone else about it, I don’t need to hear about how you have a healthy relationship based on love and respect and pain and humiliation and unresolved daddy issues and shit.

    -jcr

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